• Iran or the gender appartheid: up to €7,000 for wearing the veil incorrectly or not at all, when the average salary is €200
  • Caitlin Moran: "We humans have taken away our sexuality, good for us"
  • Nadya Tolokonnikova: ''In some ways, feminism is illegal today in Russia''

Narges Mohammadi was declared the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize laureate while serving time in a Tehran jail, where she is still being held. The reasons for the award are abundant: "For her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all," the statement said. A prominent anti-death penalty activist, women's rights lawyer, vice-president of the National Peace Council, vice-president and spokesperson for the Centre for Human Rights Defenders, Mohammadi, 51, has spent half her life as the courageous voice against the Islamic Republic of Iran's violence against women simply because they are women. She has also been imprisoned for half her life for the same reasons, so she knows the prison system from the inside and also the methods its officials use to torture women.

This book of interviews with women imprisoned for their religious, ethical and political convictions, which is now published by the Alianza publishing house, is entitled 'White Torture' because this is the way in which violence is usually exercised against them in prisons.

What is white torture?

Its very name is very graphic. No, there is no 'physical' torture in the sense in which we usually understand it. It is a type of torture based, above all, on sensory deprivation. It is applied, explains the author of the book's introduction, Shannon Woodcock, "through the architectural structure of the prison, the behavior of the officials and the questions of the interrogators. The light in the cell is controlled so that the body does not distinguish day from night and sleep patterns are altered. Prisoners are blindfolded when they leave the cell. The harm caused by deprivation in solitary confinement and interrogation is compounded by the fact that inmates can only feel the touch of rough blankets and concrete walls. The only smell in the cell is usually that of a foul-smelling toilet that is never cleaned to impair the sense of smell. They are always served the same bland food in a metal bowl and tea in a plastic cup." And then there is the institutionalized mistreatment, of course, the indifference of jailers, doctors, judges, and the incessant interior monologue.

This type of torture leaves long-term scars. It generates, it is explained, a state of permanent distrust towards everyone and everything. In addition, sensory deprivation "causes the traumatic experience to physiologically condition the stimulation of the senses, in such a way that the sounds, tastes, and experiences of the outside world evacuate the suffering of the prison."

A chilling testimony

Narges Mohammadi herself recounts in the book her successive prison experiences, the loneliness in terrible conditions, her serious respiratory illnesses there, the interrogations, the coercion, even a type of violence that uses the feeling of guilt (with messages such as "you are a bad mother"). The system is set up in such a way that an incarcerated woman can end up holding herself accountable. Becoming her own enemy. "In my first detention in the cells of Eshrat Abad he tormented me harshly, telling me that my faith and convictions were weakening. If they were firm, I told myself, I wouldn't let myself be caught up in such feelings. Sometimes I thought the problem was that I was an outgoing, social, open, and cheerful person. He reproached me that if in moments of solitude, in order to train myself, I had shut myself up in an empty and noiseless room, it would have been less difficult for me to endure the solitary confinement cell. I blamed my exercises, my cheerful spirit, my personal tastes and my penchant for enjoying things and always having a good time."

Violence against women in Iran, the activist writes, stops at nothing, does not distinguish one woman from another, the only thing that unites them is that they are women who have dared to step out of the norm. "I heard a young girl. I asked him his age. He answered: 12 years. 'What are you doing here?' I asked. "I had relations with the neighbor's son. My father reported it and the police arrested me,' he told me."

A year and a half in solitary confinement

Nigara Afsharzadeh, one of the interviewees in the book, was tricked by her ex-husband into traveling to Iran by telling her that she should take her daughter with her. She was on the street with her two young children when the police arrived and arrested her. They took her to Tehran and put her in solitary confinement." Time doesn't pass in the cell," he says. "The cell was quiet and there was no sound. He searched the entire cell to see if he could find anything, such as an ant; And when I found one, I was careful not to lose it. I would talk to the ant for hours, crying and sobbing." During interrogations, they held a picture of one of their children around whose neck a noose had been drawn. They would tell him things like the child was dying in a hospital because he needed a kidney. Also that her mother was also going to be arrested and imprisoned. They pointed a gun at her, asked her to describe her sexual relations... It wasn't until the sixth month that he was able to talk to his family. He slept a year and a half on the ground, and lost more than 20 kilos. Although by far what made her suffer the most is knowing that her children had been placed in a public center. To counteract the despair, he prayed. "The worst thing of all was the loneliness and silence, they drove me crazy":

Dry bread to the ants

All of the women featured in the book have equally harrowing stories of their time in Iranian prisons. Activist Atena Daemi was threatened with the death penalty, told that her sisters had been arrested, interrogated for three months straight, tried to get her to betray her friends... During the endless hours of solitude, he poured dry bread on the ants to entertain himself. It was only after months of interrogation that he was allowed to speak to his family on the phone. He spent fourteen months in solitary confinement.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British Iranian citizen, was detained at the airport as she tried to return to England after two weeks in Iran. There, her young daughter was taken from her and handed over to her parents, she was accused of espionage and participating in subversive activities, and sentenced to five years in prison. In his solitary confinement cell, with only two blankets, one to sleep on the floor and one to cover himself, he lived a real nightmare. He washed himself with a basin and a bowl, he was not allowed to go outside. The interrogations, harsh and full of threats, led her to a psychological state close to madness. "I once cried so much that I fainted. Another day, during the interrogation, the pressure I received left me so bad that I fell out of my chair," she says. He read the entire Qur'an seven times to try to cope.

The reading of this very necessary and very courageous book provides us with a very crude portrait of the defenselessness of Iranian women, subjected to a terror that hovers not only on those who have, manifestly, like Narges Mohammadi, a political stance and activity contrary to the Islamic regime and its forms, but on all of them. The simple fact of not wearing a veil, or of getting divorced, can land you in prison, without even the need for a trial, where there will be no guarantees, where no convention will be respected, no human rights will be respected, where they will do whatever they want to you. You may not be subjected to physical torture, but you will be torn apart inside, and that white torture will leave you with scars forever.

  • Iran
  • Feminism